A Bittersweet Farewell to the Design District

November 10th, 2014 by Jennifer Smart

In a city full of fascinating neighborhoods, the Dallas Design District has carved out an identity all its own. Eclectic yet upscale, the Design District is a key piece of Dallas’ cultural fabric, serving as home to one of the largest consolidated collections of interior design showrooms in the world, a selection of Dallas’ highest-rated restaurants, cutting-edge art galleries and some of the city’s most in-demand multifamily communities. It’s hard to believe it’s only been ten years since Crow Holdings set the wheels in motion for what the Lionstone Investments and we, here at PegasusAblon, would steward into becoming one of the most successful large-scale redevelopments in Dallas history. Harder still to believe that after seven years calling the Design District home, it would be time for us to hand over the reins to someone else, letting a new vision and new leadership guide the area into what we’re certain will be a great future for this iconic Dallas neighborhood.

Formerly part of the Trinity River floodplains, the neighborhood almost shouldn’t be here, its existence only made possible by the city’s construction of the levees and diversion of the Trinity River away from downtown. After the river’s diversion, developers saw the opportunity and got to work. The Stemmons family was first when they put in place building restrictions which would ensure a sense of aesthetic continuity throughout the neighborhood’s architecture. Although there are too many to count, others followed in their footsteps, developing buildings in accordance with the neighborhood’s zoning and adding to its history. The most notable, perhaps, was Trammell Crow, who began construction on a number of mid-century warehouse and industrial buildings in the 1950’s, including Hi Line Drive’s Decorative Center, which for many years would remain relatively untouched.

It wouldn’t be until the mid 1980’s that the area would begin its gradual metamorphosis as high-end design and furnishings businesses began moving into the area, converting the existing warehouse spaces into showrooms catering to the design trade.

For several decades the area remained relatively isolated from the rest of the city due to a lack of easy access; its collection of design showrooms (and the several prescient art galleries located on Dragon Street,) frequented almost exclusively by credentialed interior designers. In the early 2000’s an Oak Lawn exit was added to the Dallas North Tollway, increasing access to the neighborhood, and the Crow Family, having recently added to their Design District portfolio, determined the time was right to develop a plan for the burgeoning area.

They went on to develop a master plan for their portion of the neighborhood, consolidated around Oak Lawn Avenue and Hi Line Drive. The plan called for residential, dining, retail, a hotel and an improved streetscape. The Design District of today, although still a distant reality, began to take shape.

In 2007, the Lionstone Group in partnership with PegasusAblon purchased over 30 acres of land in the area from Crow Holdings, and with our own vision and master plan, picked up where they left off and never looked back.

Fully cognizant of the challenge we would have convincing a city more or less unaware of the area to come here to eat, shop and live, we launched this blog you’re reading today as LowerOakLawn.com (LOL); the name, although not universally loved, we hoped, would communicate the neighborhood’s location at the same time as it conveyed for the area a true sense of community, telling people not just what was down here, but also who.

Instead of scraping and re-building the mid-century warehouses and showrooms, we worked with the existing buildings and tenants consolidated around Oak Lawn Avenue and Hi Line Drive to maintain the true character of the place; transforming the Design District into a true, locally branded experience economy, all the while ensuring the neighborhood would remain uniquely itself. We enlisted multifamily builders to add apartment communities behind and around existing structures, and while we brought in restaurants and a public park to lure in a more diverse community of visitors, we took pains to ensure the neighborhood’s namesake industry would remain, helping to create one of the most successful ‘design districts’ in the country.

Since our project’s inception four multifamily communities have been erected, forming a backdrop to the new shops, restaurants and public space that have been added in recent years. Some of the city’s most highly lauded, local, chef-driven restaurants such as the Meddlesome Moth, PakPao, Oak and FT33 now call the neighborhood home and world-class design tenants such as Adriana Hoyos, Ornare, Waterworks and so more have joined what was already a vibrant design scene.

Standing here now, it’s hard to believe ten years ago very few people even knew this place existed.

What’s Next

And so it is with mixed feelings that we hand over our keys, if you will, but we’re excited to see what the future has in store. As Design District development continues to expand to the west over the next few years, into the new and old Trinity Districts that abut the Trinity River, and as Dunhill Partners realize their own vision for the area, we’re certain to be back again and again.

We wish the District, and all of its constituents our sincerest best wishes. We have treasured the opportunity to be what is just a small piece of the ever-evolving Dallas Design District.

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